Demonstration by the extreme right against the UN Migration Pact in Brussels on 16 December 2018. Credit: Belga
The organisation responsible for threat analysis in Belgium (OCAD) has warned that right-wing extremism is gaining ground at an alarming rate and that social media is an aggregator for spreading such ideas.
Although Jihadism is still posing the main threat in Belgium, the annual report of OCAD found that there has been a “steep rise” in right-wing extremism ideology.
“The increased activity of right-wing extremists on the Internet, also in our country, points to the danger that emanates from right-wing extremist arsenals,” the OCAD’s annual report, seen by De Morgen, read.
It warned that the Internet plays an important role as an online meeting place for people with such extreme ideologies.
Remarkably, the report also explicitly mentions that memes – online collages of pictures aimed at making jokes, usually with an ironic undertone – are a way to “spread rabid racism” and conspiracy theories.
Although the Internet and social media are also used for the spread of radical Islamic ideas, the OCAD highlighted that the right-wing extremist network has a more visible online presence, which makes it easier for young people to come into contact with right-wing extremist propaganda
This year, right-wing extremism and the danger it poses became a direct threat to Belgium after former career soldier Jürgen Conings, who was indicated as a potentially dangerous extremist in the Joint Database (GGB), stole ammunition from an army base and disappeared for around a month.
Following his disappearance and death, thousands of people gathered on social media, particularly on a Facebook page named “Als een achter Jürgen” to support his cause and to defend his opinions, and to organise a silent march for him.
The GGB, set up following the 2016 terrorist attacks, also indicates the rise in the number of people with right-wing extremist ideologies, as in three years’ time, as this figure grew from around 20 to more than 50 people.
However, the report stressed this is also due to the growing attention for right-wing extremism among the security services, which means potentially suspect people are spotted and followed up more quickly.
Jihadism and QAnon
The report stressed that jihadism still exists in Belgium, but that the way it works has changed since 2016: Foreign terrorist fighters and terror cells controlled by larger organisations such as IS are no longer the main concern, and instead, “lone actors” who radicalise and create plans on their own are.
Meanwhile, the OCAD also mentioned the role of social media when it comes to spreading fake news and other types of conspiracy theories, especially when it comes to the coronavirus and information regarding the pandemic.
The service stressed that these, too, are not innocent, and pointed at the QAnon movement, which originated in the United States, and which centres around the unfounded theory that President Trump is fighting a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles within the government, business and the media.
The OCAD expressed concern about this theory, stating that “some wanted to give wind to certain extremist narratives.”